Stress: It’s Not The Stress That Kills Us…

It's not the stress that kills us... it's our reaction to it

…It’s Our Reaction To It

I didn’t invent this quote. It comes from Dr Selye – a physician who first discovered stress and gave it its name. I love this quote because it highlights just how much impact we have on our own stress levels.

My Stress, Your Stress…

I’ve got a friend who loves her house to look perfect. When she noticed on her kitchen walls some stains her children had made, she decided she had to have the walls repainted. To me, the stains were hardly noticeable. To her, it was a source of conflict with her husband. Why didn’t he just do something about it? She got really stressed about it until he gave in.

I’ve got another friend who learned 6 months ago that she had secondary cancer. She has 3 little girls. She went for her radio therapy course. She didn’t ask what her chances were. She just didn’t want to know. She wanted to take one day at a time and be there for her girls and her husband the best way she could. Her lump seems now to have disappeared. She is relaxed. She doesn’t seem to worry. Had it been me, I would have spent my time on google trying to find out what the odds were. I would have asked lots of questions and worried… a lot. I would have been and would still be under a lot of stress.

I could give you more examples but you get the idea…. what stresses me, probably won’t stress you and vice versa.

Stress is a highly personal thing

What Makes Us React To Stress The Way We Do?

We react to events and situations according to our own views of the world and our own values.

Some people are optimistic. Others stress out just watching the news.
Some people want everything to be perfect. Others are laid back and content.
And so on…

We also react according to our resources.

I remember a friend telling me his wife went back to work shortly after their daughter’s birth and was really enjoying it. He didn’t understand why I wanted to stop work.
What he said made me feel very uncomfortable. How come I couldn’t handle it all when she obviously was?
Well, the answer was simple.
They happened to have their parents living close to them and more than happy to help in any way they could. I was in London, with no relatives within 1000km. I just didn’t have the same resources. I was struggling greatly with the pressure of childcare and work.

Finally, we do not have the same skills.

I get into all sorts of community projects (setting up a traders association to encourage people to shop locally – my latest project!, helping to organize an Apple Day, a Lantern Procession…). I love it but it does take a lot of my time and I find it difficult to say no.
Saying no is a really useful skill when it comes to Stress Management.
I know it and I’m working on it. I’ve set my priorities. I’ve decided how much time I can give and when. I delegate when I can. I’m working on being more assertive too. For some people, being assertive comes naturally. It’s not that they don’t want to help. It’s just that they’re realistic about the impact it will have on their life and they commit only when they can deliver.

When Stress Becomes Good

We’ve recently created an e-course about Stress Management and I love it because it’s so empowering. Stress Management is about taking control of your life and your stress. You learn how to react to stress in a way that’s helpful to you. More than that, you learn how to make use of stress.

Because stress is not always bad. There’s also a positive stress that gives you a boost, stretches you, makes you rise to challenges and succeed. Hans Selye called that good stress: eustress.

We often ignore this aspect of stress and we tend to concentrate on the negative stress (where stress levels remain high for long periods of time and our body suffers as a result). Of course, that exists too.

But, remember: It’s not the stress that kills us, it’s our reaction to it.

I’d love to hear your views about it. Do you mostly experience good stress, bad stress? Do you think you’re making it worse for yourself?


Stress: It’s Not The Stress That Kills Us… — 7 Comments

  1. I used believed that being stressed is a bad thing. While I do have the tendency to worry over many things, I was able to not stress about it for a long time by accepting and letting go, mainly because I’m stressed by things which are out of my control. I did came across opportunities to use the stress I feel to be able to accomplish what I needed to do.
    This post was indeed timely, Isabelle. Thanks for writing this.

  2. I agree. Stress cannot be that bad when we just react naturally. Reaction really hurts us especially when we feel it too much.

  3. I also believe that it is our reaction to it that hurts us more. I usually try to remain calm but I also have times when I get quietly upset by things and it eats at me and keeps me thinking, when I should just let it go.

    • Hi Jennifer,
      I also sometimes get these lingering unhelpful thoughts I just can’t shake easily. The good news is that recognizing these thoughts as unhelpful (like you do too) is half the battle. Techniques like positive thinking, meditation, mindfulness help me let go. So does talking to my husband… he always tells me when I’m being an idiot thinking too much!
      Take a look at our mindfulness article here . It might help you too.
      Best wishes

  4. Isabelle,
    I love that quote. It really is true that it’s not stress that kiss us it’s our reaction to it. It can make the difference between being happy and not being happy.
    I think as i’ve gotten older i’ve started experiencing good stress in more areas of my life. All those stress factors I used to worry about as a young 23 year old mom seem trivial when i look back. But now with three kids, two of whom are teenagers, i’m experiencing some really bad stress. I still have not learned to let go and it’s causing me so much angst. Another mom who is 10 years my senior said to me yesterday, the things i worry about are just not that bad. ( I don’t like my kids watching t.v. or playing video games). After listening to her talk for a little bit i realized i was creating my own stress and that watching tv once in a while and playing video games is not that big of a deal. I feel much less stressed after just mentally letting go and saying to myself, “it’s ok”.
    So strange..

    • Hi Annie,

      Generally, we (and I’m guilty too!) tend to think too much… and consequently worry too much. We worry because we care but, sometimes, we just get in our own way. And make it worse for ourselves and others. I too find that it’s all about knowing how much and when to let go. My son is pre-teen and I know I’m going to have to learn a lot… first thing on my agenda is to learn to trust him, trust him to get on with things, trust him to make his own mistakes and learn from them… but be around to help if and when needed. Quite an adjustment! Hopefully, I won’t get too stressed in the process 🙂

      Take care

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